By  on February 2, 2009

VICENZA, Italy — High-end Italian jewelry makers at Vicenzaoro said they are coping with the industry’s downturn by putting the spotlight back on intricate workmanship, creativity and streamlined luxury.

Despite the year’s bleak outlook, many insisted that consumers will continue to covet Italian-made pieces.

“I believe you absolutely have to hold on to the creativity in difficult times, just not be as extravagant,” said Davide Staurino, president and co-owner of Staurino Fratelli. “It’s about discrete luxury.”

Marco Bicego, the designer of his eponymous nine-year-old line, said the crisis could be an opportunity, especially if retailers close out some vendors.

“It’s time to keep true to your point of view, to stay creative, to offer emotion — jewelry is meant to evoke emotion,” Bicego said.

Others cited fine jewelry as a savvy investment in an uncertain economic climate.

“You can’t think of jewelry as fun or fashion anymore. Rather, it is an investment for the family,” Fabio Macchitella, advertising manager at Leo Pizzo. “Fine jewelry has substance in its materials and precious stones.”

Calgaro’s gold-centric jewelry collection, made with an old artisan process, underscored that sentiment. “We want to continue to be made in Italy, and make our product with traditional artisan techniques,” said Lara Milan, marketing manager at Calgaro. “Gold is the only thing that is still holding its value.”

Attendance at the weeklong show that ended here Jan. 18 reflected the fine jewelry market’s weakness. Visitors dropped 30 percent to 15,500, and there were 1,700 exhibitors.

Fair organizers also highlighted the market’s sluggishness and said the U.S. registered a 28 percent drop in fine jewelry imports from Italy last year.

“Even Russia and Dubai are having some problems,” said designer Roberto Coin. “But the world will move on from this, and America also has a beautiful way of coming back.”

Manufacturers continued to cut costs by utilizing more semiprecious stones, such as quartz and tourmaline, and whittling down gold’s thickness.

Calgaro’s new line, Soleil, featured hollow, unevenly shaped, ultralightweight gold rings created by fusing a fine layer of gold together after melting its copper mold, which is then hammered to a satin finish. Some were decorated with a sprinkle of diamonds. The asymmetrical circles also were incorporated into chain bracelets and necklaces with irregular, laser-cut citrons.

Franco Pianegonda hit the fair with a new sterling silver line dubbed franco P that targeted customers ages 18 to 35 and will retail from $100 to $1,000.

“As a customer base, they are very active and aware. Plus, they are our future,” Pianegonda said. “This is responsible luxury. Rather than spending $4,000 on a piece, women will cut their budgets down to $1,000.”

For the line, the trendy Vicenza-based jeweler fashioned sterling silver into rings, bracelets and necklaces, some made of a network of diamond-incised circles, while others bloomed with roses with colored enamel petals.

Trendwise, yellow gold edged its way back into the spotlight. The metal’s shininess was replaced with a textured surface and combined with pastel-colored stones for rounded, organic-shaped pieces.

Marco Bicego tapped model Bridget Hall for his new advertising campaign. He presented Jaipur, a tribal-style necklace of yellow gold disks hand-grooved with satin-textured ridges and decorated with pink and green tourmalines, blue topaz, yellow quartz, peridot and pavé diamonds.

Leo Pizzo’s cone-shaped rings featured tiers of twinkling white and black diamonds. Large cocktail rings at Roberto Coin glittered with green tsavorites and brown, champagne and white diamonds. Coin also presented sapphire blue, white diamond and ruby encrusted bangles with a floral design. Stefan Hafner’s dome-shaped ring flourished with blue-toned flower-cut sapphires hid an elegant laced-gold underside.

“Women look good with one dramatic piece,” Coin said.

Meanwhile, manufacturers pushed ahead with retail expansions, especially in the Middle East. Leo Pizzo opened a flagship in Dubai at the end of last year; Pianegonda will open stores in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Athens; Miami, and Tokyo this year, and Coin will cut the ribbon on a Bahrain location.

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